Favorite albums of 2016 so far

The year is about halfway over, and there’s been the requisite wave of blockbuster releases over the last couple of months ramping up toward summer, so it’s time for the customary roundup of my favorite releases from this year.

These are going to be presented in no particular order, because I want to give the albums time to organically grow in my estimation and jockey for sweet, sweet supremacy in my end of the year list.

  • Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest

OK, so the no particular order caveat was a bit of a fib. This is my favorite album of the year so far. It contains some of my favorite songs of 2016 and those songs boast a ton of simple but insightful acerbic couplets. Will Toledo and Co.’s first major label album also draws from a ton of interesting inspirations without being totally beholden to its influences. It’s a wonderfully arch, well-thought-out rock album with plenty of roughness around the edges.

  • Life of Pablo by Kanye West

At this point, I think there’s three or four versions of this album lurking on my iPod. It’s not Kanye’s best album, but it continues in the wonderfully weird vein of Yeezus, and anytime a major pop star wants to advance the cause of weirdness, I’m on board. It’s also chock-full of interesting sounds and good ideas. Even the de facto bonus track , “30 Hours” is an interesting examination of a disintegrating long-distance relationship with frigging Andre 3000 providing  guest vocals. Plus, it presaged some of the year’s best and worst biggest hits by featuring Chance the Rapper and Desiigner doing what they do. Sort of feels indespinsible to this year’s pop culture landscape.

  • Lost Time by Tacocat

I was lukewarm about this album at first, but it’s grown on me. It’s a collection of hooky punk willing to take on some weighty topics with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Sure there are songs like my beloved “Horse Grrls”and the fantastically buoyant “I Hate the Weekend” but wanton internet misogyny, controversial next-day contraception and the literal end of the world all feature prominently in this album. I’m not sure if it’s as good as NVM, but it’s some of Tacocat’s catchiest work.

  • Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

I just realized that this will be my third consecutive entry, where I kick things off by pointing out an album is inferior to one of its predecessors, but it bears saying, Coloring Book is no Acid Rap. It’s still a very fun, vibrant, positive statement from a singular, captivating artist, but it suffers from some bloat, and for someone whose stage name includes the title “the Rapper”, his virtuosic bar-spitting prowess really isn’t on display. Even if it isn’t necessarily the album I want it to be, I think it’s the exact album Chance wanted to make and it’s a blast of free-wheeling gospel-tinged positivity all the same.

  • ★ by David Bowie

When this album came out, it was the middle of a dreary, gray and cold winter. It was my first full winter in the Midwest in five years, and ★’s aural pallet seemed to use the same colors as my surroundings. I thought it was an extremely interesting, sort of haunting piece of spooky art. It was nice to see old man Bowie really going for it with a tight jazz-influenced backing band. Then Bowie died, and the dread, finality and transcendence packed into the songs became that much more profound. Honestly, it’s almost unlistenable now because of how much heaviness was retroactively added to the swan song of one of popular culture’s greatest innovators.

  • Down in Heaven by Twin Peaks

This album is a shambolic, delightful throwback to ’60s music. There’s lyrical allusions to the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” but somehow, the Rolling Stones song it seems to evoke the most is “Beast of Burden”. The shuffling album-closer “Have You Ever?” is a particularly glorious drunk-sounding shout-along.

  • Nice as Fuck by Nice as Fuck

    It hasn’t been out very long, but the debut from Jenny Lewis’ profane new band might be my favorite effort in her oeuvre. On albums The Voyager and Acid Tongue the lyrics suggested Lewis had a thoroughly spacey side, but it didn’t really come through in the music. Nice as Fuck changes that. It is a nine-song collection of artsy dance rock with driving drums and bouncy bass. I didn’t know I wanted Jenny Lewis, Gang of Four, Joy Division and Franz Ferdinand in a blender so badly, but here it is, and it rules.

 Honorable mentions: The Hotelier, Woods, PUP, Whitney, White Lung and A Giant Dog.

Teacher, mother, secret lover: three songs about T.V.

This is a needlessly esoteric premise even by my standards, buuuut:

In the “Treehouse of Horror V”, The Simpsons‘ fifth Halloween special, Homer abandons attempted homicide to gaze at small, portable television lying in the snow and states, “T.V. Teacher, mother, secret lover.” He more or less coos the last two words.

Today, while listening to Colleen Green, I realized I knew of three songs about television that hit on at least one of those criteria pretty squarely while also generally being good songs, and decided I might as well preserve that thought for posterity in the form of this list.

  • “T.V.” by Colleen Green

This power pop song off of Green’s third album, I Want to Grow Up, really covers the first two elements of Homer’s television triad very well within this song’s opening seconds. “T.V. is my friend/And it’s been with me everyday/From an early age,” succinctly sets the stage for a song all about forging a meaningful, lifelong connection  bathed in the soft, blue luminescence of a television screen.

It really reminds me of that famous Freaks and Geeks scene where a latchkey kid played by Martin Starr makes a disgusting snack and hunkers down to watch t.v. and laugh riotously,even though it’s readily apparent his life is generally miserable.

  • “T.V. Luv Song” by Wavves

Musician and delightful human waste product Nathan Williams definitely seems like a dude who watches a lot of t.v.–possibly immediately after ingesting drugs.So it wasn’t really a surprise that he penned a gleeful ode to getting trashed with only t.v. to keep him company.What is a surprise is that years after this tossoff single was released, I still return to it’s bubblegum garage sound fairly often.

This improbably falls into both the teacher and secret lover categories.

  • “TVC15” by David Bowie

I thought I might have a tough time finding a song about a person with explicitly romantic feelings for an appliance, but thankfully, there’s this gem off of Station to Station.

As Bowie helpfully explains, “This is a love story between a girl and her television.”

It’s really that cut and dry.

My favorite Bowie song

I was raised to revere the music of David Bowie, and I’ve always been a fan, but even more than his hallowed studio albums that are indisputably part of the rock canon, the bonus discs released with a reissue of Station to Station–recordings of a powerhouse performance at the Nassau Coliseum in ’76 has always been my favorite Bowie album.

It encompasses most of the essential tracks that would appear on any reputable Bowie greatest hits collection, but this absolute jam of a Velvet Underground cover might be my favorite track on the collection.

This is in part, because, well, listen to the song and try not to smile. It’s amazing,

It’s also partly because Bowie’s career was defined in a pretty major way by his relationship to other artists.Mott the Hoople can pretty much attribute the royalty checks that come in the mail to the benevolence of Bowie, and as an arbiter of cool, his influence shed light on varied, artistically interesting sounds and bands.

Plus he was friends (or in some cases rumored to be more) with Paul McCartney, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Mick Jagger and Lou Reed.

Knowing he’s covering one of his friends songs, hamming it up and injecting some pseudo-inspirational spoken word makes that total romp of a song even more enjoyable.